NAELA was founded in San Francisco in 1987 during a meeting of attorneys who specialized in elder law. They had four simple goals:
- Create a national network of experienced attorneys
- Establish standards of practice
- Identify members as a resource to other attorneys
Two years later, NAELA held its first symposium in Tucson, AZ. The symposium gave members the opportunity to meet face-to-face, share ideas and work to expand the elder law profession. By 1989, NAELA had more than 500 members and a budget of $63,000. In 1991, the Academy held its first Advanced Elder Law Institute in San Antonio, TX. The annual meetings were a success.
NAELA members began to develop strong bonds and felt that meeting at national conferences was not enough. They took the next step and created state chapters that allowed elder law attorneys to expand their knowledge of state-specific issues.
As membership grew, the Board of Directors approved the formation of state chapters in 1992. Presently, there are 31 chapters with more than 3,800 members – more than 50% of NAELA’s membership. Chapters have anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred members, with many active in advocacy and leadership roles with organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association.
Despite the growth of NAELA, elder law was not an officially recognized field of practice. In 1992 the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) was formed along with a certification called the Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA). It took two years before the American Bar Association approved NELF as a certifying entity for elder law (for more information visit www.nelf.org).
New Technology, NAELA Expands Its Mission
The increasing popularity of the internet inspired a member to create NAELA’s first listserv in 1995. This was a crucial step in connecting NAELA members from all over the country. Attorneys could now ask questions and get advice around the clock without having to travel. Presently, more than 25% of NAELA members use the listserv. In a move to continue bringing resources to members, NAELA launched its first website in May 1997 and assumed management of the listserv in early 1998.
In July 2003, the Board of Directors modified NAELA’s mission to include a provision to improve the lives of people with special needs. In doing so, it established NAELA as the premier provider of educational and networking resources for both elder law and special needs planning attorneys.
The Board of Directors sought to increase its presence among lawmakers and to support federal candidates who champion NAELA’s mission. In January 2004, the Senior Rights PAC (SR-PAC) was established. Since that time, the SR-PAC has raised more than $200,000. Funds are distributed to congressional and presidential candidates of both parties who support the advancement of special needs and elder law. Members also engage in grassroots efforts. "Hill Day" was established as a regularly scheduled event held in D.C. where members meet with legislators and staffers regarding issues that affect the elder law profession like the Deficit Reduction Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and health care policy.
NAELA Today and Beyond
In January 2009, NAELA relocated its offices to the D.C. area, and hired staff who focus on:
Communications and publications
- Membership, marketing and special events
- Professional development, chapter and member services
- Public policy and advocacy
In celebration of the 25th Anniversary in 2012, NAELA announced the formation of the NAELA Foundation. The Foundation's mission is to promote the goals of NAELA and the elder law and special needs planning profession through scholarships, advocacy, research, and education. NAELA uses a 2 million dollar budget to serve over 4,500 members with the latest technology in e-commerce, virtual education, and online communities. As the needs of older adults and persons with disabilities continues to grow and NAELA will continue to serve as the pre-eminent professional organization for attorneys who identify themselves as practitioners in elder law and special needs planning.